The NBA continues to move toward a 2020-21 season beginning on Dec. 22.
Late Thursday, representatives from the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) voted approval for a plan that includes the Dec. 22 start date and a 72-game schedule. (The news was first reported by The Athletic’s Shams Charania, beating out ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski in a photo finish.)
According to Wojnarowski, several details still need to be finalized between the league and players’ union including allowing teams to make trades, the start of free agency (following the Nov. 18 NBA Draft) with little time before training camps need to open on Dec. 1.
Additionally, the two sides need to agree on an amended collective bargaining agreement which factors in the reduced number of games, lower revenues with no fans in attendance (at least early on in the schedule). Playing a 72-game campaign intended to finish before the Summer Olympics is expected to create at least $500 million and up to $1 billion in revenues for the league.
Among NBPA player reps on tonight’s call, there was some curiosity about starting free agency prior to Nov. 18 Draft, sources tell ESPN. For a few reasons, it isn’t possible under these circumstances. However, it is an idea that's had some support among teams in ordinary times.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 6, 2020
Following the conclusion of the postponed 2019-20 NBA season which ended in mid-October, there was speculation that the next NBA campaign might not begin until February or March to give the league and players an offseason close to its typical length. A later start might also create an opportunity for fans to attend some games.
As the New York Times‘ Marc Stein explained in his newsletter, the continuing rise in coronavirus cases throughout the country (setting records on two consecutive days this week) has made opening arenas to fans seem increasingly unlikely as the calendar progresses to winter. The best way for teams to recoup some of that lost revenue is to have more games for its TV partners, which can happen by tipping off in December.
Christmas has often been viewed as the NBA season’s unofficial start for fans as football season nears its end, with the holiday providing a showcase of five games for ESPN and ABC. The Dec. 22 start would also allow Turner to have its usual opening night doubleheader.
A new season that begins in the winter and ends in the summer would have a semblance of normalcy for the league, its TV partners, and fans. Finishing before the Olympics would also avoid a conflict of players who want to compete for their respective countries in international play. And offseason business could be conducted on a timetable resembling past years.
This still won’t be a normal NBA season because of what’s going on in the world, but sticking to a schedule close to regular business and playing games in home arenas would certainly be a move toward a familiar routine.